On Saturday night, Sept. 18, some big names and powerful voices came together to celebrate the retirement of two foundational figures of the Muhlenberg theatre & dance community: Charles Richter and Curtis Dretsch, recently retired professors of theatre.
The sheer presence and production value of the presentation was spellbinding, and can be attributed to the work of producers Dana Ianuzzi ‘03 and Robert Grobman ‘99, choreographer Bree Delgado ‘03, musical director Justin Brehm ‘05 and scenic designer Darren Mechiore ‘00. The performance also featured live instrumental music and a variety of golden age musical theatre favorites.
The lights went up, and the audience of current students, faculty and alumni were instantly greeted with the friendly faces of hosts Ruben Ortiz ‘00 and Mia Scarpa ‘04, as the full company began a rousing rendition of “Comedy Tonight,” from the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Ortiz was, according to the program, “an active member of the Muhlenberg community as a brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon, student government and the Uninvited Guests comedy improv troupe,” and explained that “tonight we celebrate two men who built an award-winning theatre program from the ground up, and allowed us to grow into the actors and theatre-makers and people that we are today.”
The company exited stage left, and a packed night of music kicked off with vignettes of Richter’s favorite showtunes, including selections from “Carousel,” “Cabaret” and “The Sound of Music.” This segment included a performance of “What Good Would the Moon Be” by adjunct professor of voice Lauren Madigan ‘96.
Between musical numbers, the program featured heartfelt speeches from people in the Muhlenbberg community with whom Richter and Dretsch had an especially close relationship. Dance professor Karen Dearborn, assistant technical director Eric Covell and director of operations and production Jess Bien all spoke throughout the program on behalf of the growth and experiences they have received after working alongside Dretsch and Richter.
“[Richter]’s office was this sanctuary … I knew I could always go there,” said Frankie Grande ‘06, after a rousing solo performance of “My Town. I wouldn’t be the performer I am today without the guidance of these two amazing men.”
As the night progressed, the company of alumni performers were joined onstage by members of the Muhlenberg chamber choir. The choir accompanied the singers in a multitude of musical theatre ensemble songs, with everything from uptempo character pieces such as “Ya Got Trouble” from “The Music Man” and “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” from “The Pirates of Penzance,” to sincere, solemn ballads like “Sabbath Prayer” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“I’m not sure if many people know this, but [Dretsch] was a long-time supporter of the choral program,” stated Chris Jackson, director of choral and vocal studies, in a pre-show address. Jackson included the acclaimed “Gaudeamus Igitur” melody in the program for the night, seeing as how the piece was the inspiration for the school’s alma mater, as a tribute to Dretsch’s devotion to the music department and to the survival of musical ensembles through the years.
Grande and other alumni performers interacted with the current students in the chamber choir, starting conversations and taking selfies backstage, as well as after the show.
“A shirtless Frankie Grande took me by the shoulder and had a mid-life crisis,” said Joshua Myers ‘22, an active member of the chamber choir. “I was uplifted.”